A Guide to Porto Santo Island
Porto Santo is one of the most beautiful islands in Europe. Lying 50 kms from the north-eastern tip of the island of Madeira, it is the smaller of the two inhabited islands of the Madeira archipelago and has been dubbed “the Golden Isle” because of its long stretch of sand and the ochre hue of its soil. A beautiful 9 km beach of fine, silky, golden sand bathed by a turquoise blue ocean dominates this 11 km long and 6 km wide island, drawing growing numbers of visitors to its shores and increasing its allure as a holiday destination. Porto Santo’s climate is another major contributory factor. Temperate all year round and with a sea temperature oscillating between 17ºc and 22ºc, Porto Santo never loses its appeal.
Officially discovered in 1418 by the Portuguese mariners, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, the island of Porto Santo was the first of Portugal’s overseas’ discoveries and was immediately inhabited. Blown off course on their way to explore the western coast of Africa, the island of Porto Santo reportedly gave them safe harbour, giving origin to its name “Holy Port”. In 1446, Henry the Navigator named Bartolomeu Perestrelo governor of the island, giving the island some claim to historical fame: Perestrelo’s daughter was to marry Christopher Columbus, who lived on the island for a short space of time.
History has not been kind to Porto Santo: subjected to frequent raids by French, Moroccan, English, Turkish and Algerian pirates, its inhabitants were mercilessly sacked and pillaged over the centuries, sometimes unable even to seek refuge in the mountains of the north and east. Lack of rain and long periods of drought also took their toll on the islanders, affecting agriculture and leading to emigration. Vegetation is scarce and the little farming there is, is concentrated in the central and southern parts of the island although small, forested areas do exist in the north.
The landscape on the northern coast of the island is entirely different to that of the south. Rugged mountains with sheer drops into the sea contrast greatly with the flat expanse of beach to the south but offer awe-inspiring views and interesting examples of volcanic rock formation.
Porto Santo is an island of unequalled peace and tranquillity where a relaxing holiday by the sea is just that and where the crowds and bustle of other European seaside resorts are markedly absent. Although the summer months do see an increase in the influx of tourists with a subsequent rise in the various forms of animation offered, it is always possible to find a secluded spot on the beach with no jostling over a square metre of sand on which to lay your towel.